According to the United Nations Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance,
“Enforced disappearance is considered to be the arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty committed by agents of the State or by persons or groups of persons acting with the authorization, support or acquiescence of the State, followed by the refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person, which place such a person outside the protection of the law.”
In Asia, involuntary disappearances are widespread. All these are exacerbated by the present war against terrorism- as an aftermath of the September 11, 2001 tragedy, for which the Asian region bears the brunt of it. The consequent shift towards totalitarianism in a number of Asian countries is a cause for alarm and a signal for an increase in future cases of involuntary disappearances.
While the human rights movement in the Asian region has advanced, it is threatened by the effects of the war against terrorism, one possible form of which is involuntary disappearances. Thus, in the face of all these atrocities and the imminent threat of future human rights violations, it is imperative to strengthen the organizations of families of victims on the national, regional and international levels and to ensure their cooperation with similar formations in other parts of the world.
The majority of the families of the disappeared in the region come from the marginalized sectors of society, who rarely have means to pursue their cases. Unlike their Latin American counterparts who have made breakthroughs in the fight against impunity and have achieved relatively concrete gains in achieving truth, justice and redress and historical memory, the families of the disappeared in Asia have not yet achieved significant inroads in the fight against impunity.
What makes their situation all the more difficult is the absence of strong regional human rights mechanisms which are necessary means especially when local remedies are exhausted.
In Asia, existing organizations for the disappeared are conducting serious investigations and campaigns for justice in their respective countries. Unified in a regional level, these organizations gradually bring about concrete results in projecting enforced disappearances as a regional problem, in the fight for accountability and the end to impunity. Considering the gravity of the situation of disappearances in Asia and the richness of experiences obtained by national organizations working on this issue, it is imperative that a distinct Asia-wide federation of organizations of families of the disappeared be established and developed further in order to project the particularities of the phenomenon of disappearances in the Asia region.
The birth of the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD) on June 4, 1998 is a concrete organizational response to the regional phenomenon of involuntary disappearances. So far, AFAD has performed the task of highlighting the issue of disappearances in Asia and providing pressure on Asian governments to respond to demands of accountability. The resolution of past cases and the prevention of future ones can eventually be facilitated through the strengthening of this existing regional unity in the fight against impunity. Its struggle should be linked to the struggle of civil society and grassroots organizations to ensure maximum impact.
The experience of the Latin American Federation of Associations of Relatives of the Disappeared-Detainees (FEDEFAM) and the concrete victories it has garnered in more than twenty years of its existence are a proof that regional cooperation indeed, effects a strong impact. The situation of enforced disappearances in Asia is widespread but not widely known due to the strict government control over related information. The birth of AFAD has brought about a unified Asian voice on the issue. In recent years, AFAD, together with FEDEFAM, the Euro-Mediterranean Federation of Families of the Disappeared (FEMED), the We Remember-Belarus and the International Coalition Against Enforced Disappearances (ICAED) have been lobbying for the ratification of the United Nations Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances. The AFAD continues to speak strongly on the issue of disappearances in Asia, therefore, has been heard nationally, regionally and internationally. The AFAD's presence in international venues on the issue of enforced disappearances is a voice loud enough to be heard by the Asian governments who implicitly say that the problem of involuntary disappearances belongs only to Latin America. Another value of AFAD's formation is that the federation has facilitated an on-going process of formulation of Asian particularities in relation to involuntary disappearances- both in terms of political situation and organizational response. Organizations within Asia are at different stages of development because of varying internal and external factors and because of their unique experiences. Thus, learning from the experiences and expertise of organizations from other countries is necessary for mutual enrichment. Strengthening cooperation ensures each and every member's sustainability in this long-drawn struggle for justice for the disappeared. The strength of the whole federation is the strength of each member and vice versa. It is a known fact that we are in an era of globalization. Governments are forming their own regional and inter-regional entities for cooperation. Non-governmental organizations of common concerns shall also unite and organize in order to confront the increasing challenges of human rights work.
The Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances is a reaffirmation to the families of the disappeared in countries across Asia as well as other continents that they are not alone in the struggle. By forming an Asian group of organizations focused on disappearances, it is important to note that many countries in the region have repressive regimes, preventing the existence of organizations focused on the issue of disappearances. One big challenge for the federation is to facilitate the formation of organizations focused on disappearances in countries that have none in order to expand its reach to those families of the disappeared in other countries who equally need support.
One particularity of Asia is the fact that Asian countries, unlike those of Latin American countries have different languages, religions and cultures. While this language and religio-cultural diversity is a practical difficulty, this should pose as a challenge for enriching further the solidarity.
The Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances is a federation of human rights organizations and human rights advocates working directly on the issue of involuntary disappearances in Asia. The federation was established based on the common phenomena of enforced or involuntary disappearances in many Asian countries and the imperative of regional and international solidarity in order to strongly respond to the problem. The perpetrators, being agents of states, are so powerful that a strong response is needed to effect a huge impact. Since it is a violation of a number of basic human rights, civil and political as well as economic and social, the AFAD considers enforced disappearance as the cruelest form of human rights violation.
The establishment and growth of a federation, whose own strength is drawn from the intrinsic strength of its member-organizations and their constituencies who are the families of the disappeared, is imperative in order to respond to the latter’s needs. It intends to facilitate their empowerment which is necessary for the realization of a world without desaparecidos.
The AFAD is guided by the principles of mutual support among member-organizations, transparency within the Federation and with other regional formations, and sustainability of efforts.
The Federation adheres to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the United Nations Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), and the Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment and Punishment. The AFAD, who gave its concrete contribution to the adoption of a new international treaty which recognizes, among other things, the right to truth and the right not to be subjected to enforced disappearances, adheres to and promotes the ratification, entry into force and universal implementation of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.
The AFAD likewise adheres to the principles of gender equality, care for the environment and nature and non-discrimination.
AFAD, through its member-organizations, facilitates the search for the disappeared with the intention of rescuing lives. The Federation’s general objectives are:
Promote and forge international solidarity among organizations of the families of the disappeared in Asia and with similar formations in other continents;
Provide assistance to member-organizations in ensuring a stronger response to the phenomena of enforced disappearances;
Conduct campaign and lobby work in addressing the issue of enforced disappearances in Asia, thus ensuring the attainment of truth, justice, redress and the reconstruction of the collective memory of the disappeared;
Strengthen the capacity of the federation and its member-organizations through various forms of empowerment and capacity-building activities.